Saturday, 6 October 2012

Thing 16: Advocacy, speaking up for the profession and getting published

This week's Thing struck a chord with me. As a public librarian (a rare breed, it sometimes seems) I am well aware of the need for advocacy. In the period where the most news of libraries closing was reaching the public and during our own authority's consultation period I was in an interesting position. At various points during our consultation I have been: a library assistant in a village library at risk of closure; a student at library school, following the news about library closures from an academic and research perspective; a librarian at a busy city centre library, and at all times; a library user. At times it has felt a bit like being on the front lines - particularly in a village library. The response to the possibility of closure of the library was very interesting. People were obviously very upset and wanted to save the library, but the way in which they wanted to do it took me by surprise. Over and over again we heard the same mantra - "we'll take it over if we have to; we'll run it for free." This was a nice sentiment and was obviously well meaning - it showed just how much people cared, but as a member of staff it was a bit dismaying to say the least. It reinforced a feeling that I often get that many people don't really understand what it is that librarians and library assistants do. I remember a library campaigner coming to speak in one of my lectures who really annoyed everyone with his constant assertion that everyone had forgotten that libraries are about books, and his aggravation at the fact that CILIP "won't admit they are about books either". There is no doubt that libraries are about books, but they are about so much more than that: they are about people and getting people the information they want and need. The staff that are there to help are trained to do just that (and people would probably be surprised by the kinds of things we are asked to do every day)and if you take them away, or expect people to do it for free, then you run the risk of turning libraries into book depositories, where people can do no more that pick up and return books. When it comes to advocacy, my own personal crusade is probably less about the saving of libraries as about the saving of library professionals. I continually feel like I have to fight against people who, upon finding out what I do for a living assume that I have some kind of wonderful stress-free job. (It is wonderful, most of the time, but it's certainly not stress-free)! At one stage, the popular moneysavingexpert.com recommended that anyone wanting to make a little extra money might consider working in their local library as it is such a nice easy job. A quick look through the forums will reveal that there was such an uproar in response to this that it was removed from the site. I have to be honest and admit that I don't think I've done a great deal to try and change this image of library professionals, but I would certainly like to. I particularly liked the article what it takes to be a 21st century librarian. Building on what I said in Thing 15, perhaps this a possible topic for presentation at a conference?

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